Robert Bales, the U.S. Army staff sergeant suspected of killing at least 16 Afghan civilians, is “confused” and doesn’t recall some details of the alleged assault, the soldier’s attorney said.
“He doesn’t remember everything about the events in question,” John Henry Browne, a Seattle lawyer, told reporters after meeting Bales yesterday at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, prison where he is being held. “That doesn’t mean he has amnesia.”
Women and children were among the victims in the March 11 shootings that exacerbated tensions between the U.S. and Afghanistan and threaten to undermine support for President Barack Obama’s plans to keep troops there until 2014.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan will conduct an administrative investigation of events preceding the killings, including the suspect’s situation, according to General John Allen, the commander in Afghanistan for the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The review will “look at the entire command-and-control process, how he was assigned, why he was assigned,” Allen told the House Armed Services Committee in Washington today.
Browne questioned how much evidence the government has in the killings.
“There are no eyewitnesses, as far as we know, that the government has at the scene of the incident,” Browne told reporters today. “There is no forensic evidence. If I was the prosecutor, I’d be concerned about how we prove anything.”
He scoffed at a report in the Los Angeles Times, which cited an unidentified U.S. official as saying Bales initially told friends at a combat outpost that he had shot several Afghan men without mentioning women or children.
“Don’t you think I would have seen that in the reports I’ve received?” Browne said. “They are just upset with what I have been saying.”
‘War on Trial’
Browne, who met with Bales, 38, at the prison yesterday and today before returning to Seattle, said the Army is likely to file charges on March 22 against Bales for the killings in two villages.
Browne, 65, who has defended clients in multiple-homicide cases, said in an interview yesterday that he opposed the war and asked, “How would you like to be the mother or father of the last soldier killed in Afghanistan?”
“People ask if we are going to put the war on trial,” Browne said. “The war is on trial. I don’t know why we are in Afghanistan.”
While the Army is providing Browne extensive access to Bales, the attorney said, “I know the military is not happy with having a private lawyer involved.”
Navy Captain John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, declined yesterday to comment on Browne’s remarks about the timing of charges in the case except to say “look to Kabul for release of the charges,” a reference to the U.S. Army’s operations there. Kirby said Bales also has been assigned military counsel.
Karilyn Bales, wife of the accused soldier, said in a statement yesterday that what happened in the Afghan villages “was a terrible and heartbreaking tragedy.”
“What has been reported is completely out of character of the man I know and admire,” she said in a statement issued by a family spokesman. “Please respect me when I say I cannot shed any light on what happened that night, so please do not ask. I too want to know what happened.”
The family “is in shock,” Browne said. He said the government has arranged a phone call between Bales and his relatives.
The stress of a fourth combat deployment, a troubled marriage and alcohol use may have combined to provoke the killings, a U.S. official briefed on the investigation of Bales has said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Browne disputed that account.
“Everyone has had issues in their lives,” he said in the interview yesterday. “Some people do six or seven tours, but the question is whether the last tour was too much for someone with a concussive brain injury.”
Bales had a brain injury and lost part of a foot during three tours of duty in Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan in December. Bales told Browne he had only a few sips of liquor, the lawyer said.
Browne, the former chief trial lawyer in the King County Office of the Public Defender, has represented clients including serial killer Ted Bundy and mass murderer Benjamin Ng.
Browne said Bales’s situation most closely compares with Ng, who was convicted in the killing of 13 people in Seattle in 1983. Ng was spared a death sentence.
“I’m still surprised by that case,” Browne said.
Bales was being held in a medium-security facility in his own cell. He spent the weekend in the military prison under the same routine as other pretrial detainees -- usually about a dozen -- at the medium-security prison, Fort Leavenworth spokeswoman Rebecca Steed said yesterday in an interview.
Lights are turned on at 5 a.m. and prisoners are escorted to a dining hall for meals at 5:15 a.m., 11:20 a.m. and 3:51 p.m., according to a fact sheet provided by the prison. Outdoor activity, including soccer, basketball and track is restricted to 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., according to the report. Lights-out is at 10:05 p.m.
Bales is off that schedule until midweek as he meets with his lawyers, she said.
“For personnel inside the facility, it’s business as usual,” she said.
Prisoners can provide a list of requested visitors, who are then vetted by authorities, Steed said.